Underground and on the outside (Go with God, James Purdy.)
Gore Vidal described James Purdy as "an authentic American genius." Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and Edward Albee were big fans of his stories, poems, and plays. Pretty impressive company for a guy from Hicksville, Ohio, but if there's a common thread running through that group, it's definitely...(hmm, how to put it)...idiosyncrasy?
According to the obit by Hillel Italie in USA Today:
Purdy published poetry, drawings, the plays Children Is All and Enduring Zeal, the novels Mourners Below and Narrow Rooms, and the collection Moe's Villa and Other Stories. Much of his work fell out of print; several books were reissued in recent years. In the spring, Ivan Dee will issue a collection of his plays.
Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams and Dorothy Parker were among his fans, but Purdy won few awards and was little known to the general public. He spent most of his latter years in a one-room Brooklyn walk-up apartment, bitterly outside what he called "the anesthetic, hypocritical, preppy and stagnant New York literary establishment."
James Purdy died Friday. He was 94. Talking with Purdy in 2004, Martin Goodman asked the author if he'd enjoyed his life.
“I don’t know about enjoy," said Purdy. "I’d hate to live it over. Now there’s all these problems with my health and no real money coming in. But I don’t really care about that. I don’t care that I’m not a money maker. I don’t think I’d like it if people liked me. I’d think that something had gone wrong.”
His best epitaph, perhaps, is a line from his novel In a Shallow Grave: "You are a vessel in which is flowing the underground river of life."
(Kate Simon's portrait of Purdy appeared in the New York Times in 2005.)